Nerk Informer Update and a Special Comment
Due to schedule conflicts, I have been absent from the first two meetings of this year. Something interesting unfolded at the Rules Committee meeting from last Monday, though. In that meeting, two significant proposals were discussed with respect to how City Council functions. For starters, after a recent shuffle of partisan leadership led to at least one surprise outcome, Councilman Blake brought to the table a suggestion that the decision for Minority and Majority leaders be left solely to the members of each respective party. It was noted that these decisions are often made in private (the partisan vote on leadership, that is), and they agreed to come back at a later time with more to discuss. This all seriously begs the question: why do we, the people, permit members of any level of government to make these decisions behind closed doors? Especially on the local level of government, unless there is something which legally requires confidentiality – like a lawsuit or certain issues pertaining to personnel -, a decision behind closed doors allows typically intolerable behavior to go unabated. We, the people, deserve to know where each member of our elective government stands. The decision on leadership is not a “harmless” decision, because there is a Council Rule – Rule 11, to be exact – which requires an agreement between the “Majority Leader” and the “Minority Leader” for a piece of legislation to offered before council without first moving through a committee. In my opinion, the concept of partisan leaders needs to be abolished in the long-term along with any rule which empowers our government to needlessly circumvent the people’s watchful eye. Still, every non-confidential decision and discussion ought to be dealt with in the public’s view.
The other concerning proposal regarded the number of Council meetings every month. Councilman Cost rightfully noted that the symbolism of a reduced number of meetings shortly after Council granted itself a pay raise was not good. One serious problem with this proposal – which calls for having Committee meetings an hour and half before Full Council meetings – is that the rules which permit an emergency clause or even waiving the two day reading rule would enable Council to propose and pass the bulk of their legislation in the same day with very little opportunity for the people to see what they are up to.
Both issues deal with transparency, which means a great deal to me. Transparency – our ability to adequately see what the government is doing – is essential for good government. Making leadership decisions outside of the public’s view is problematic because the leaders chosen through a private means allows for corruption (think of backroom deals and possible bribery in the worst case scenarios). These leaders in a partisan framework have more power than their peers, which is why this decision is not “harmless”. It has the potential to be harmful to us all.
Regarding the reduced meeting schedule proposal; a handful of city elected officials seemed open to the idea. They claimed that it would give citizens more time to weigh in on the decisions being made. This isn’t even remotely true. The fact that the previous Committee meeting happened last week instead of today means we have a whole week before the FIRST reading of a piece of legislation before the full council to possibly form and express an opinion on the matter. This proposal would reduce the time between a committee meeting and the FIRST reading from a week to just a couple of hours at maximum. Moreover, it would reduce the number of time between the Committee meeting and the SECOND reading - required by what is called the “two day reading rule” - from three weeks to two weeks. Council rules require two readings for each piece of legislation, but they are also empowered – with a vote of 7 out of the 10 regular members – to waive that two day reading rule. Also, the emergency clause allows them to vote on legislation on the FIRST reading.
As someone who has attended most Council meetings since the summer of 2014, I can tell you that a large amount – probably more than half – of the legislation they pass is approved WITHOUT a SECOND reading. If they approve this proposed change, Council will be able to expedite new resolution and ordinances and pass them within hours of their proposal simply by appending an emergency clause or waiving the “two day” reading rule. What that means is that the City will be able to take official actions and most citizens will only have the chance to read about it AFTER it has already become law.
This is not good government. Period.
EDIT (5:48 pm 1/16/18): It was pointed out to me that I made an error in reading the minutes of the rules. I thank my friend, Councilman Lang, for taking the time to read my thoughts and help me recognize my error. The error I made was when I was reading the section of the Rules Committee meeting minutes pertaining to Committee meeting changes I misread the part where Council President Ellington was introducing the changes. This sometimes happens when I speed-read paragraphs. Anyways, I unintentionally skipped over the important part where Ellington assures the Council and the Audience that the First Reading would be delayed until the council meeting two weeks later. This would actually grant the people more time to review. In the interest of transparency, I will not change my commentary above, but please note that this particular part I made a mistake and am willing to admit it.
Having said that, I still want to make clear that I am opposed to this change, now only because of the inconvenience of having back to back meetings which may become a very lengthy policy marathon that would be a tad difficult for the average apolitical citizen to endure. Either way, I am satisfied in knowing that the transparency part of this particular proposal is preserved.
Here are this week’s documents:
This Week’s Available Agenda
This Week’s Available Minutes